My former life as a cartoon writer

In 2006, when I was 25, my flatmate Zarina Liew was a very talented aspiring illustrator, and as two Asian girls, she and I decided to produce a range of greeting cards for girls with the tongue-in-cheek name Love You Long Time. The venture was emphatically not a success, and I think I lost around £4,000 altogether trying to get it off the ground. It was the first of my three failing businesses. (Remind me never to start a business again!)

BeautifulThing

Then my lovely journalist friend Michael Shaw put a cartoon strip we created forward for a slot in his newspaper, the Times Education Supplement. Our bid was successful, and our cartoon All-Time High ran for six months in the magazine that came with the paper. We used the weekly £150 payment to replenish the £4,000 savings I’d lost on the greeting card business!

Each week, I would script the cartoon and send it to Zarina, and she would produce the strip. Here’s my favourite of our efforts:

TES - 'Definitions'.png

This next strip was based on my experiences at school, as teachers’ default positions seem to be that kids have a great relationship with their parents:

TES - 'Mother's Day'.png

And here’s another one I quite liked:

TES - 'Mendacity'.png

I really enjoyed scripting All-Time High, but the editor at the TES who was responsible for commissioning it (who has now left the paper) wanted to exert more and more control over it. At first everything was fine – we’d just deliver the cartoons each week – but then she wanted to see the scripts before they were inked; next she wanted to agree the topics before they went to script stage; finally she was vetoing everything I suggested. Eventually it became impossible to continue, and I quit in fury, thinking she was being thoroughly unreasonable.

Having been a journalist for many years now, I’ve yet to encounter this kind of control freakery again, so I think I was probably right. It’s a shame though, as it was a fun gig and I would have liked to carry on.

I can’t draw like Zarina, but I dabble from time to time. I wrote a little children’s book which never got published, about a hippo who wanted to be a supermodel, and I drew this illustration as part of it:

hetty.jpg

Here was the text:

Hetty the hippo and the supermodel dream

As Hetty the hippo
Lay dreaming in bed
A wonderful vision
Swam into her head

Of walking a runway
In beautiful clothes
Fine frocks on her figure
High heels on her toes

She leapt out of bed then
To tell all the land
About her ambition
So epic and grand

“A famed supermodel’s
What I want to be!”
Brave Hetty confided
To friends over tea

Alas, she was faced
With both laughter and scorn
At first, Rae the rhino
Sighed, tossing her horn

“What makes you think
You could strut like a star?
A massive fat hippo
Is all that you are!”

“She’s right!” chimed Pandora
The petulant pig
“Like me, you can’t model
We’re both much too big!”

“I won’t let that stop me!”
Het cried, undeterred
“Who cares what my size is?
That’s truly absurd!”

“We care,” hissed Camilla
The sleek and mean cat
“The whole of the world thinks
You’re simply too fat!”

Poor Hetty felt crushed
And her dream now seemed bleak
A single large tear
Made its way down her cheek

She stumbled away
Through the forests and streams
Vowing to give up
Her big fashion dreams

“Hey,” came a voice
“I don’t know who you are,
But your figure’s amazing
I’ll make you a star!”

Hetty turned round
And a jackal stood there
“I’m Jen,” she explained
“What great curves! What good hair!”

“But there’s no time to waste
Let’s not stand here and talk
My show’s in an hour
Please say that you’ll walk?”

Hetty was thrilled
Soon she donned fancy clothes
Sashayed down the runway
And strutted and posed

“This is the life!”
Hetty smiled, “It’s a doddle!”
For Hetty the hippo
Was finally a model.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 39

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 39 days: 8.8lbs)

Back on the wagon today.

John: 14st 5.5lbs (total loss in 39 days: 2lbs)

John is plugging another of his books.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

My friendship with the Atheist Bus Campaign font creator

My friend Graham is a wonderful man – kind, funny and endlessly patient. But when he was younger, he had one flaw, which was using other people’s work without permission or payment. He once got in trouble with Getty Images for taking one of their photos from Google Images and using it for his company’s website. And when he came to design the Atheist Bus Campaign posters, he used the font without paying for it.

And so, one day in 2009, I got a message from an American man from Denver, Colorado called S. John Ross. He had created the font we’d used, Dirty Headline, and told me ‘The font was free for private use only. The side of a bus is not very private!’

ABC JG Banner Final.JPG

Now, approximately 75% of Americans are religious. I could have had the misfortune to have unknowingly misused the font of a Christian fundamentalist, and been sued for a pretty penny as a result – after all, this font had been used in campaigns in 13 different countries around the world, as well as being plastered all over the national and international press and endless Atheist Bus Campaign merchandise!

Luckily, S. John Ross was a very reasonable and generous man, and described himself as an ‘agnostic humanist’. I was skint as I’d been editing a charity book called The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas for free for six months. At my request, the publisher HarperCollins (who were using the font on the front of the book) paid S. John £500 for the privilege. I remember his invoice to them featuring the Bill and Ted quote ‘Be excellent to each other.’

atheists-guide

S. John and I kept emailing, giant six-page-long emails (if emails had pages), and soon became firm friends. He told me how much he loved his wife, Sandra, and I told him I wished I could find someone who would feel the same way about me as he did for her. We wrote about all kinds of things, one of which was my fear of flying, as the Sunday Times wanted me to go up in a tiny two-seater Cessna to cure my fear of planes.

I told S. John that Anaïs Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”, and that this quote was helping me. In response, he wrote me a wonderful email which used another Anaïs Nin quote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” He then added: ‘That’s a day to seek out, to strive for.’

So when I was asked to take part in a photography project, holding a quote that meant a lot to me, I used S. John’s. I also went up in the Cessna, clutching a sweaty printout of S. John’s email, and had my article about the experience published in the Sunday Times’ Travel section a few weeks later. It was my first ever article for them.

Me holding S John Ross quote 2

Sadly, S. John and I stopped writing around six months later. It was my fault: I was having a major nervous breakdown and just stopped emailing him without any warning or explanation. He was very hurt, but I hope he knows now that my mental illness was the true reason and not an excuse.

These days, we keep up with each other on Twitter. He’s at @SJohnRoss and is a super-smart and talented guy – as well as creating numerous fonts (which is no mean feat) he also makes role-playing games for a living.

I feel lucky to count him as a friend – and Sandra is a very lucky lady.

Me holding S John Ross quote.JPG

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 30

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 30 days: 8.8lbs)

I am truly plateauing.

John: 14st 4.5lbs (total loss in 30 days: 3lbs)

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The rudest letter I ever wrote

It was 1997, and I was 16 years old. Despite having an on-off boyfriend, I was very lonely. Then I stumbled across a now-defunct music magazine called Select, which had a contact ads section at the back. The pages weren’t exactly lonely hearts, though I’m sure that was on the minds of numerous advertisers, but they were an opportunity for geeky outcasts to meet other misfits.

In January of that year, a man called Graham placed an ad that said ‘Adventurous and insatiable male hermit, 19, requires intelligent corespondents [sic] to astound, bewilder, tantalise and bore. Self-important wordy sarcastic types encouraged.’ (The spelling mistake was the magazine’s, but I didn’t know that.) Graham seemed smart and interesting, so I wrote him a rather combative letter, trying to be sarcastic while simultaneously taking his ad entirely seriously. The one-page letter was typed on my parents’ word processor.

Intro.png

I’m cringing just reading it now! Back then, my personality was an odd combination of zero self-esteem, due to being abused physically and emotionally at home and bullied all the way through school; and self-confidence, having recently discovered that a lot of men wanted to have sex with me. At times, when I thought about my life to date, I felt suicidal – and, at that age, I was still self-harming and had only just stopped being anorexic.

Graham wrote a caustic reply in response to my opening gambit:

Graham's intro

Touché! So started a friendship that would last from then until the present day, off and on. Looking back, Graham’s letters were much more readable and mature than mine, but then I guess he was more than three years older.

However, I may have been an embarrassingly gauche and daft correspondent, but I certainly wasn’t boring. I was sure I had nothing to offer in terms of my personality, so tried to convince Graham I was irresistible – as I believed this was the only reason a man could ever be interested in me. In my first letter, I told him ‘I spend my days straddling naked men’. He retorted, ‘You didn’t say whether or not the naked men were conscious.’

In another letter, I naughtily tried to turn him on:

Sex.png

The rest of the letter is so racy and smutty that Graham asked last night, ‘Are you sure you want it out there if you’re applying for jobs? It’s X-rated!’ So I will save it for the memoir.

Back in 1997, Graham totally refused to take the bait and reciprocate. He said later that he had no idea what to make of me! He was much more withdrawn, reserved and measured than I was (then again so was pretty much everyone, including Julian Clary).

But our friendship progressed. Graham eventually sent me a perfectly attractive if rather sullen photo of himself:

Graham.png

However, he was extremely self-deprecating about his appearance, and I tried to reassure him:

Optician.png

Reading back through the letters I sent him, though there were jokes in, I was also incredibly depressed. I was still focused on self-harming:

Self-harming.png

And I couldn’t stop feeling sad and angry about my childhood:

Parents.png

But having a good friend to write to helped ease my pain very slightly, and he’s still there for me 22 years on.

Az-'n'-Graz.jpg

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 29

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 29 days: 8.8lbs)

God I can’t wait to be slim again!

John: 14st 3.5lbs (total loss in 29 days: 4lbs)

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

So long, and thanks for all the fish

My Californian dad had a real love-hate relationship with America. He didn’t want to live there and left aged 29, but wanted to retain citizenship; he never took me over there, but arranged for me to have citizenship too; he was estranged from his abusive father, but had stayed in touch with pretty much everyone else he knew in America, such as the rest of his relatives and his school and college friends.

Anyhow, all you need to know for this story is that my dad had an aunt he particularly liked, Auntie Ann, and that in 1989 she came over to the UK with a female friend to stay with us for a month.

Both women were very elderly (probably in their late 70s/early 80s). Auntie Ann had a perm and was fat, and her friend Miriam had a perm and was thin. As you can see in the photo above, I had a perm and was chubby. (Joke! That was my natural hair.)

Auntie and her friend were very nice, and one day in late May they took eight-year-old me and my five-year-old little brother to Pinner Fair.

Pinner Fair was (and still is, I assume) a gigantic funfair that wove all the way through Pinner Village on the Wednesday of summer half-term. It was amazing and huge and boasted everything you can imagine: a carousel with beautiful painted horses; a ghost train; a hall of mirrors; bumper cars; a ‘fun house’ and ‘mad house’; loads of food stands (hot dogs, toffee apples and candy floss) that we were never allowed to buy anything at because my mum was a health freak; and numerous insane rides you’d need a death wish to go on.

It also had lots of exciting stalls where you could win a massive cuddly toy, and one where you could win goldfish in bags for sticking darts in three playing cards.

Now, it turned out that Auntie Ann was a dark horse: she was a bit of a sharpshooter when it came to darts.

‘Please, Auntie Ann, win us a goldfish!’ my brother and I begged.

Auntie Ann’s jaw set in steely determination. Her wrinkled, liver-spotted hand shook as she took aim and fired a dart into the first card on the stall floor. Pow! Second dart: Pow! Third dart: Ka-pow! That’s how you do it.

The man running the stall reached up and fetched us a bulging plastic bag of water with a great big fat goldfish in. We were thrilled, as we’d never had a pet before.

But being kids and always wanting more, we weren’t satisfied with just one goldfish. We now wanted one each.

Auntie Ann sighed and gave the man another quid. Pow! Pow! Ka-pow! She could have been a secret sniper, for all we knew. The man lifted down another goldfish, but this one was thinner and looked scrawny and malnourished.

And so we ended up with two very different-looking goldfish. My dad told us that, as Auntie Ann had been kind enough to win them for us, we should name them after her and her friend. So we obediently called the fat one Ann and the thin one Miriam.

My brother claimed ownership of the fat one, and he always got his way as he was my mum’s favourite child. So I was left with the scrawny one. ‘I didn’t want the stupid fat one anyway!’ I protested.

veiltail-11455_1920.jpg[These were not our goldfish. I didn’t own a camera aged eight.]

Now, the initial appeal of the goldfish wore off very quickly. They couldn’t do tricks and you couldn’t pet them. All they did was swim around their bowl with their mouths gaping (they shared a bowl, presumably in case they got lonely, or possibly for economic reasons).

So my brother and I would go into the bathroom once a day, where the fish lived on a tall wooden stand by the window, and chuck in a handful of fish food. And that was the extent of our involvement with our new pets.

We didn’t notice that Ann, the fat fish, was eating all of the scrawny fish Miriam’s food. We didn’t pay any attention to them at all.

And so I entered the bathroom one day, preparing to throw in the usual handful of fish food, and found my fish Miriam floating on top of the water.

I was shocked and upset, and wanted to tell someone. But who? My great-aunt and her friend were still staying with us, but they were in the bedroom having an afternoon nap. My dad was out of the house with my brother. I searched for my mum: she was out in the garden talking to the gardener. I barrelled down the stairs and out into the garden.

‘MUM, MUUUUM!’ I shrieked, ‘MIRIAM’S DEAD!!!!!’

I had never seen my mum move so fast in my life. She looked appalled, as though she’d seen a ghost, and sprinted into the house. I was quite gratified that she was taking my concern seriously, as she had never seemed to like the goldfish at all.

When she discovered that I was talking about the dead fish Miriam and not our elderly-yet-very-much-alive house guest Miriam, she screamed at me, which I thought was very unfair. ‘It’s not my fault we were told to name the fish after her!’ I sulked.

The next pair of pets we got were two gay rabbits. We were forbidden from naming them after anyone we knew.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 20

Me: 12st 7.6lbs (total loss in 20 days: 6.6lbs)

I only need to lose 0.1lbs and I’ll have lost two stone this year!

John: 14st 2.5lbs (total loss in 20 days: 5lbs)

It is John’s birthday today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN! He is 69, and never was there more apt an age for such a naughty man.

For his presents, I have bought him three lottery tickets – and, even better, this:

His toenails should improve soon. On the flip side, we’re going out tonight for dim sum to celebrate, so we may weigh more tomorrow.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The time I got official permission for topless sunbathing

When I was 19, my lovely friend Mark (who is still a good friend) took me on my first proper holiday: four days of soaking up the sun in Cyprus. Like most people, I go darker in serious heat  – and the marks take ages to fade.

Being a very body-conscious and slightly exhibitionist teenager, I decided the best way to avoid getting tan lines on holiday would be to sunbathe topless. I’d never done it before though, and I didn’t want to get in trouble for it. I searched online to see whether you were allowed to sunbathe topless in Cyprus, but in the year 2000 the internet wasn’t what it is today, and I couldn’t find an answer.

So I decided there was only one thing for it: I would have to call the Cypriot High Commission.

I dialled the number, and a man with a very deep voice and Greek accent picked up: ‘Hello, Cypriot High Commission?’

‘Hi,’ I said. ‘I’m about to go on holiday to Cyprus, and I want to know if I’m allowed to sunbathe topless on the beach?’

‘Yes, you are,’ the man said, ‘but there is one thing you must do first.’

Get a visa or an official letter of permission, I wondered?

‘What?’ I asked.

‘Let me know when and where you are going, so I can come along!’ the man joked.

I’m pretty sure this exchange would never happen these days, but I laughed.

 

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 5

Me: 12st 9.4lbs (total loss: 4.8lbs in five days).

John: 14st 5.5lbs (total loss: 2lbs in five days).

john-scales.jpg

I surge even further into the lead! Something tells me John isn’t taking this entirely seriously…

I am, though, as I want to look like this again.

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. Rewards start from just $1 a month.

With a little help from my friends

I only have three close friends: Graham (my best friend since 1997, after he placed a contact ad in Select magazine and I answered – and he’s now my ex-husband too); John Bon Jovial (a good friend since he wrote a blog about my comedy music album in 2014); and Annabel (we worked on Big Brother together in 2007-2008).

Sadly I don’t see Annabel much, as she’s an exec producer on The Great British Bakeoff so is super-busy. And I don’t see Graham much either, as he lives in a tiny remote village in Suffolk. But I see John at least once a week, which is great. Here he is being Jesus:

John-loaf

And here he is as a little boy. Awww!

John little

Anyhow, yesterday both Graham and John came round for a late birthday celebration. Graham had crafted me a ‘rubbish present’ – a wooden container for my very pretentious bin! I didn’t have a bin in the office, so now I do. He is very good with his hands (fnarr). No, seriously – he can pretty much do anything he puts his mind to. Here is the bin:

bin.jpg

And here he is wearing a pair of elf ears from my Christmas elf outfit (he is desperate for me to point out that these aren’t his real ears!)

Graham-elf-ears

Yesterday my lodger moved out, so I now have a lot more space (I’m not replacing her). Graham and John got everything down from the loft, opened all the boxes, put away their contents, cut up the boxes, unpacked my new mattress, and moved all the very unwieldy mattresses into different rooms. Then John ferried my daughter across London to a kids’ birthday party, and Graham painted the window sills and helped me put away all my clothes from the loft.

I think this is the very definition of true friendship: your friends help you and you help them, even when it means doing boring stuff, or travelling a long way, or letting you put a picture of them with elf ears on your blog.

DAILY STATS

Like me, John wants to lose some weight, so we’re starting a competition today – fastest to lose three stone. The winner takes the other one out to a posh restaurant for dinner! So here are our starting weights:

Me: 13st 0.2lbs (waist 36″, bust 43″)

John: 14st 7.5lbs

On your marks, get set, GO!

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Lucy Spencer, Mark White, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of amazing rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! Please support me on Patreon.